This was the final week of our group project, working through the design thinking process to solve the question: How can we, as a school, use restorative justice with technology to develop a strong and supportive culture that leads students with positivity and reinforcement? We spent time discussing what success looks like, in a asynchronous setting. Our group has made great strides with our project using digital communication tools, with a heavy use of Google Docs. We have been able to communicate and collaborate through our busy year-end schedules. Where scheduling meetings may be difficult for some groups, we have been able to use technology to work together to answer our question.
This was a tough week for collaboration, simply because we are all on different schedules. For me, I spend most of the week working on three (3) Local Control Accountability Plans, wrapping up a school-year, and planning for a board Public Hearing and board Annual Meeting. We also finished our draft operating budget, held a Finance Committee meeting, and a Personnel Committee meeting (which consisted of my annual performance review), all while thinking in the back of my head, group project and EDL Exit Exam, AND ... AVID Summer Institute. However, using the tools we have I believe I have been an active participant with my group and contributed to the overall success of our project this semester.
This week has been an important reminder for me on how important collaboration and communication is. Schedules become tough to navigate, but with a variety of digital tools, you can still involve various individuals to serve on different committees, teams. Not only did that happen with this group project, but our LCAPs for Compass Charter Schools. We utilized Workplace by Facebook and Google Docs to finalize our three (3) plans this week. A tall order, with the end of our Track C the same week, and the last day for most of our staff being next Friday, June 30. We were able to manage, though, and create a great plan because of collaboration and the use of these different tools. No voice was turned away because of a lack of time.
Process is everything. There has to be one, with a goal in mind, a mind that the goal could change based on research, feedback, testing and the like. But that is what design thinking is all about - ensuring the best possible solution at the end, because time was taken to ensure all voices were heard, seen, and heard again. This has been an important lesson as I continue to lead Compass Charter Schools and strive to create an inclusive, collaborative community where everyone is a leader, and whose voice matters.
Work continues with my group as we near the end of the semester and the end of our project. This week we spent time testing our project with peers in the field. I was out most of the week, as my school hosted a graduation and 8th grade promotion ceremony in the LA area and San Diego area at the start of the week. I did, however, share our concept with a peer to get her feedback. She has been in education for over 20 years and at many different levels. She was very positive with her feedback of our work, sharing some great suggestions which I passed along to the team.
Some of the collaboration process we are going through is similar to what research says it not collaboration. Tasking and working individually, and reporting out to the group is not necessarily collaboration. However I do believe that if the team is on the same page, working through a solution, and knows they have folks to call on, perhaps it is not a bad thing. It is a way to maximize time when time is so limited. And it is a way to ensure everyone can work with their strengths to support the team and project.
There are some different takes on what it means to collaborate. One of the questions I came up with this week was on collaboration, along with technology. My colleague also shared a few questions, based on our reading and resources for the week. Here they are, along with our take and understanding:
Question 1: In many classrooms, educators get caught up in using the latest and greatest technology and ignore that they should be used for more than just a tool. How can technology be used to value the process, rather than just the deliverable?
“In the end, it's the message, not the tool.” Jester (2002) goes into depth about an experience that he had with his students and how using presentation software in classrooms shifted work at a computer from emphasizing the acquisition or integration of technology skills to involvement in group and project-based learning. In his experience, he sees computers as a catalyst for learning rather than just a tool to produce a deliverable. Jester (2002) suggests that if there was no requirement for students to produce a polished final presentation, teachers could explore the characteristics of multimedia that focus the student on universal concepts of language. This could allow students to fully divulge into design thinking and appreciate the process. Of course, students may have to be shown basic functions of the tools given, but after awhile students would have the confidence to explore on their own through trial and error.
Question 2: Jester (2002) says that technology tools can give support for students to delve into writing and develop their skills. How can tools be used to encourage students to broaden their understanding of what they are learning?
Even though technology tools are not a replacement for instruction, they certainly can help a student demonstrate what they know better. Technology is something that is necessary to understand and learn in order to be a successful 21st century citizen. These tools must be used in conjunction with habits of mind in order to fulfill 21st century thinking (Zmuda & Kallick, 2017). For example, multimedia such as Prezis, YouTube videos, and Flipgrid responses can provide natural divisions that help students organize ideas more clearly. Multimedia can engage students and keep their attention better than traditional media (Jester, 2002). Through technology, subjects that involve writing and explaining the student’s thinking process can become more workable for revision and editing. Using multimedia allows students to differentiate between important words and ideas through the use of color, text size and font, and position on the page (Jester, 2002). They can use customization to convey their understanding and divulge deeper meanings of what they learned.
Question 3: Collaboration is a current buzzword, but what does true collaboration look like within an organization?
Collaboration has been a big buzzword at Compass Charter Schools, so much so that it turned into a negative. This turn occurred, not because collaboration was seen as a negative, rather, there was not true collaboration taking place. Dr. Doug Fisher shared in a short video titled “Effective Collaborative Conversations” published by McGraw Hill Education that effective collaboration cannot occur in groups over five. If groups were to grow in size, there ends up being subgroups and side groups and not everyone is truly involved and engaged. Dr. Fisher also shared the task has to be complex to ensure there is a collaborative conversation. Otherwise, groups turn into tasking as opposed to working as a group. The problem at Compass was the size of the group. A recent LCAP Planning Meeting included 10 staff, with several active participants and two or three who were bystanders. While collaborative conversation was occurring in this meeting, there was not 100% participation. To ensure effective collaboration can occur, the topic needs to be complex enough to ensure the team works together and the team is organized with appropriate players. Moving forward, Compass leadership will invite staff to participate in various small groups, ensure they have the tools to answer the question and share what the anticipated end result should be. We will not provide the map for them, merely the destination and the resources they need to make their way to that destination.
Question 4: What can technology replace in the classroom setting? What is its role in learning and comprehension?
For many, technology is seen as something in addition to, rather a replacement of, tools for students in and outside the classroom. In an English class, for example, students may have used index cards and posters to jot notes and form thoughts. Through technology, these notes and thoughts can be placed into a word processor or other software. In the pen and paper era, there may have been a fear to have corrections on the piece of paper. “Because students can change wording so quickly and effortlessly, they may take more chances without the fear of "messing up" the project” (Jester, 2002). A key frame of mind in using technology, however, is a good assignment will always be seen as a good assignment. “A word of warning may be in order here, though. Just like the poster, multimedia can look good without being good. Just because the "tool" is capable of great tasks does not mean it will accomplish them. Tools are effective when used by masters of the trade. Students must learn not only the "hows" of deleting, adding, and rewriting, but the "whys" and "whens" that will lead to constructive change in their writing. As of yet, with all our spell checkers, grammar checkers, and syntax analyzers, there is no computer program that can record our thoughts without us first expressing them adequately” (Jester, 2002). The idea that technology can replace learning would be inaccurate; it can merely replace the delivery of our understanding of the subject matter at hand.
Jester, R. (2002). If I had a hammer: Technology in the language arts classroom. The English Journal, 91(4), 85-88.
Kallick, B., & Zmuda, A. (2017). Students at the Center: Personalized Learning with Habits of Mind. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Work continues with my group - this week we spent time brainstorming the various ways technology could play a role in restorative justice programs within a school. We used the platform padlet to brainstorm and share our various ideas. While a solo approach to brainstorming, as it limited playing ideas off of each other, we did come up with some great ideas and were able to use technology to enhance some of the ideas that were shared in the padlet.
Once we had our ideas up, we picked four (4) as our most inspiring, rational, long shot and most likely to delight the end user. I selected two (2) of my own ideas for this portion of the week, and two (2) from my peers. Not only did we each select our top four (4), but shared rationale for those selections. We also talked through the possible constraints for the top idea. Once this was over, I was selected to represent the group and pick the top two (2) ideas and share the why behind those selections. Neither idea were my own, but are very powerful ideas that will ensure the use of technology within the school to help restorative justice initiatives.
This week's theme centered around brain storming and collaboration. I have used a similar process at Compass Charter Schools, through Workplace by Facebook. This is our Intranet, and very similar to Facebook (which makes it a familiar tool for our staff who were resistant to our last rendition of the Intranet). I routinely post collaboration ideas in several groups: Leadership Team, Staff Advisory Committee, and a few others. I have seen some great collaboration happen through this tool as our staff work remotely across the state.
Brain storming and collaboration go hand in hand, and with more voices sharing ideas, the end result becomes much more powerful. And not only is the end result powerful, the buy-in is equally powerful because those who participated know they were part of the end result. The ability to bounce ideas off of each other helps create a stronger end result. This is often lost on leadership and management, who fear opening the process to others within the organization. I take it a step further at times, and open the process to all of our stakeholders through surveys and focus groups. The end result, in education, needs to center on the scholar - the more voices that will help create the best result is what is important to me as a leader.
Speaking of not only engaging all of our stakeholders, but the use of technology as well. One of the missing links at times can be access to technology. In "Making Access Meaningful: Latino Young People Using Digital Media at Home and at School" by Lisa Tripp, she shared that there is a divide between those who have access to technology at home and those who need to go to public places to access technology. This severely limits those without technology to fully participate and be engaged, at no fault of there own. A recent French proposal would actually do away with homework due to similar disparities, and all the unique home life situations scholars are in. The French have found that to level the playing field, school needs to fully equip the scholar and ensure all of the resources are made available to them.
If we are to focus our efforts on technology, we have to ensure equity amongst our scholars to ensure a level educational field. Similar to justice being blind, education must be accessible.
The fun truly begins with our group as we look at the information we have gathered from peers, colleagues, students, and through research. My piece of the puzzle has been research. I started with the #DTK12chat list on Twitter, and found a series of great articles from across the country where restorative justice is being introduced to schools and the community. As we worked to gather and review our data, we were looking for some of the key trends. What I noticed in my research was the need to change culture and the need to build relationships.
This was a common trend for my group mates as well, based on what they were sharing with the rest of us. What started as a challenging topic for me, restorative justice, is becoming something I gain more and more interest in. Even in a virtual charter school, there exists a need to build community amongst our scholars, staff and stakeholders. My group, and this topic, have helped me see this need and our unique ability to use technology to meet the need.
As part of my reflection, I wanted to share one way that we will try to build this virtual community next year at Compass Charter Schools, through a draft letter to families:
Dear Learning Coaches:
Welcome to Compass Charter Schools and the start of another exciting year for our school and the scholars we serve. You have joined a virtual charter school, who is dedicated to ensuring your scholars are prepared to succeed where ever life takes them once they graduate from us. To that end, I want to share the Compass way to succeeding in the virtual setting.
Be present. Strange to say in an online school, but be active and engaged in our live Learning Lab and Q&A sessions. These weekly sessions will allow your scholar to interact with not only their teachers, but fellow scholars as well.
Be engaged. While attending these online sessions, ensure your scholar is being an active participant. Ask questions, of both the teacher and fellow scholars. And ask these questions in a respectful way. We are a family here at Compass, which means we all come together to help each other learn and succeed.
Get involved. There are numerous opportunities to be involved with Compass, through our scholar-led clubs to amazing field trip to enrichment days. Participate in those things that you are passionate about, and if we do not offer something you have a passion in, let us know and we will see what we can do. After all, we are a family.
Be respectful. No matter the setting, show respect to yourself, and your peers at Compass. We will be hosting a workshop on Internet Safety, which also talks about how what you do and say online will always remain online.
I am so happy you are part of our Compass family this year. This is an exciting time for the school, whose focus is on the success of our scholars. However we can support you on this educational journey, let us know. We are on this path together.
J.J. Lewis | President & CEO
Compass Charter Schools
Additional Resources. Looking for resources to support you on this journey? Visit our website, and take a look at our Parents & Scholars section. If you have a resource that may help another learning coach or scholar, please send it to us and we will add it!
Work continues with my group on our challenge question: How can we, as a school, use restorative justice with technology to develop a strong and supportive culture that leads students with positivity and reinforcement? I facilitated our first conference call, using Doodle to match schedules and UberConference for the call itself. We met Monday and agreed to meet weekly to work through our project.
This particular week was focused on interviews and research. As my school is a little different, we agreed I would take on research to help me learn more about the process, and because I would not have access to scholars or teachers from my site. The rest of the group agreed to ask questions at their site. Using information shared from our first week, I went to work on research and will have my findings for the entire group soon. I have also shared feedback on the questions that are being asked through our shared Google Doc. I am enjoying the level of collaboration and support amongst my group!
I am using a similar process at Compass Charter Schools as we work on our Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAPs). We have a group who is working on our LCAPs, using Workplace by Facebook (our Intranet) as the place for online collaboration. I shared a homework assignment for the team this past week: review our 2017-18 Planning Survey Results, 2016-17 LCAP Goal Recaps and the LCAP goals for next year. This is in advance of meeting in person next Thursday for the day. We will spend the day reflecting on this past year, aided with our Goal Recaps, and plan for next year, aided with the 2017-18 Planning Survey Results. This is a first for the organization, as one staff person developed the plan in the past before sending it to the Board of Directors for approval. This new process will give more voice to our staff and truly allow us to create goals for the upcoming year that everyone understands and supports.
This process speaks to my leadership style. I believe it is important to listen to the entire organization and our stakeholder groups before making a change in the organization. The same process occurred last year, when we rewrote our mission and vision. With the vision, we spent a month using Google Docs to rewrite our vision statement. This was after an in-person retreat where we spent 90 minutes to create our mission statement, both of which were after a series of surveys which went to all of our stakeholder groups seeking input on who we are and who we want to become. What came out of this work? For our Guiding Principles, we agreed to and the Board of Directors adopted:
"Our mission is to inspire and develop innovative, creative, self-directed learners, one scholar at a time."
"Our vision is to create a collaborative virtual learning community, inspiring scholars to appreciate the ways in which arts and sciences nurture a curiosity for life-long learning, and prepare scholars to take responsibility for their future success."
Core Values: Achievement, Communication, Integrity, Respect, Teamwork
These Guiding Principles speak to our school's commitment to preparing scholars for the future with 21st Century Skills. As I shared in my Blog with our community when we rebranded from Academy of Arts and Sciences to Compass Charter Schools in March, "You see, a compass is a tool which helps guide us. We have always believed we were guiding our scholars on this educational journey, so why not call us what we are - your scholar’s compass. It made sense. And we hope you agree. Compass Charter Schools is your school of choice, which guides your scholar’s on this journey and is here to help prepare them for their future. "
How we operate speaks to our mission, vision and values, as a virtual charter school with a robust online education program, supported by our credentialed teachers. We are the school of the future, using technology to deliver the curriculum and supporting that delivery with virtual sessions hosted by our teachers. We are bringing the learning alive through project-based assignments. And everything we do is with one aim in mind - ensuring our scholars are prepared for tomorrow. What I am most proud of, though, is our strong desire to hear from our scholars, parents, staff, and community, to find ways to enhance what we are providing our scholars. Afterall, that is why we are here. To support them, and to prepare them to be successful.
The first week of EDL 655 has been busy and intense. There is much to learn in this course, with its focus on design thinking, social media, personalized learning, and more. In this first week, we were placed into groups for our group project. I am very excited to be part of Group 2 with Elise Harp, Ryan Horton and Ryan Irvan. We are using a Google Doc to collaborate and have decided our project will be on school culture with a focus on restorative justice.
I will admit, this is a new topic for me. Not school culture ... the concept of restorative justice. As I shared with my group, I am the CEO for my charter school with little classroom experience (the only experience I have is that of a substitute teacher when I lived in Michigan), and my charter is exclusively virtual which does not really lend itself to much discipline (other than some plagiarism claims, which all schools, including universities, experience). So in addition to contributing to my group, I will be spending some time learning more about this concept of restorative justice. This is something I have also offered to lead in the group - the gathering of our research, as it will truly help me understand the topic and allow me to better support my peers in the group.
This week I shared my story with the group, and using my own lack of understanding on the topic, asked questions to not only aid in my understanding, but hopefully the understanding of some of our end users, such as parents and the community. We may all be in the same boat if we do not come from the education space. There are seven 21st Century Learner Outcomes, and I believe I am showcasing critical thinking and problem solving, as I need to learn this topic to be able to fully support my team. I have shared my growth opportunity and am taking full advantage of the resources we are coming up with to study and learn about restorative justice. I can see this as a powerful tool, too, for scholars to interact with their teachers and peers at Compass Charter Schools. What we need to do is ensure they have a safe space to ask questions and ask for help to understand a topic. It can be scary, and it was for me too. How can a school leader not know about restorative justice? I owned my shortcomings, shared that with my peers, and am taking the steps to learn. We have to make sure our scholars can also do the same without fear. It is intimidating – I can speak to that firsthand.
This idea of seeking help is something that will ensure our scholars are prepared to be successful in today’s global society. There is an abundance of resources across the globe and to be prepared means to know how to access these resources. There is not a standardized test to show mastery for some of these topics. Mastery comes from knowing how to ask the right question of the right individual. Mastery comes from understanding the answer and being able to apply it to the topic at hand. When I watching the video "The People Verses the School System" I could also put my head down and think, how far we have come in so many fields, except the field of education. I remembered my first cell phone and now the ability to text from my watch. And yet, the classroom looks the same for so many. That is not the way to ensure our scholars are prepared.
I take this to heart, too, knowing the mission and vision for my own school is to prepare self-directed learners, one scholar at a time, who are prepared for their future successes. They will only be prepared if they can think critically. They will only be self-directed if they know how to understand the right question to ask. There are so many examples from this past week alone on this area. I met with my charter authorizer, who asked a question of a peer and received a response. I said to her, that was not the right question to ask. We have to know what to ask to be successful.
This first week has truly been an eye-opener. I have some learning to do, and need to prioritize my days and weeks for the next two months to ensure I can learn and apply that learning here in this course, and in my personal and professional lives.
J.J. Lewis - a blog sharing the journey throughout SDSU's MA.EL. program.